Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
There was a time when Odd Fellows in the United States numbered one million members and Odd Fellowship was the largest fraternal order in North America. Our Order grew dramatically in the 18th and 19th Centuries, and into the beginning of the 20th Century. But somewhere in the 20th Century, the numbers of members and and the numbers of Lodges started to diminish. That trend has continued throughout the latter half of the 20th Century and now into the 21st Century.
I suspect that it was a combination of factors that affected Odd Fellowship (and all fraternal orders for that matter) but the major contributors to the decline were two things. First, we began as a beneficial society to provide things to members that governments did not. For example, early Odd Fellows could enjoy many benefits for themselves and their families such as help finding jobs, housing assistance, hospital and medical care, orphanages, retirement homes, cemeteries, and the like. Eventually, government social programs replaced and usurped much of that. Second, in the early days the Lodge was the social center for many early Odd Fellows. Society changed over time with movies, radio, television, the Internet and now an explosion of social media options and communication tools.
It may be quaint for Odd Fellows and Lodges to continue to function as if it were 1916. But it’s not 1916, and it’s not smart to act as if it were. A person from 1916 would hardly recognize society in 2016. And to continue to act as if we lived in a 1916 world ignores the reality of today. More importantly, it provides no connection to the young men and women of today – in particular, those born in the 1980’s and 1990’s. We all know that we need those young men and women as new members in our Lodges. In that regard, I would like to address some relics of the past that really make little sense in the 21st Century.
Brothers and Sisters. Odd Fellows is a fraternal order, and in that sense, we are all brothers and sisters in the Order. But to constantly refer to other members as “Brother John” or “Sister Sally” makes it appear that we are all residents in a monastery or nunnery.
Passwords and Signs. Another quaint relic of the past is the use of passwords and signs. In the 1800’s there was a real need for passwords and signs because Odd Fellows Lodges provided many benefits to members including helping members with money, housing, food, jobs, and the like. Odd Fellows would travel to visit other Lodges to get help in these areas – and the passwords and signs assisted Lodges in insuring that the person who passed himself off as an Odd Fellow truly was a member of the Order. That doesn’t really happen in the 21st Century.
Memorization. In a prior Century, officers of Lodges would memorize the ritual, rather than read it from the charge book. To be frank, that was done in large part because a significant number of members were not literate – they simply could not read it from the charge book. So memorization was a necessity. Today, 99.9% of Odd Fellows are literate, and the requirement to memorize is a throwback. That said, I have seen too often members stumbling over their lines and mispronouncing words till it becomes cringe-worthy. It is important that members practice their reading so that it is smooth and said with feeling.
Hard copies. It amazes me that in this electronic age, so many documents and newsletters produced by the Order and by Lodges is still in hard-copy. Some forms, in fact, are requested to be filled out by typewriters. Lodges that fail to have websites, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, and that fail to use e-mail and text capabilities are a generation behind the times.
All Male Lodges. In 1999, the California Grand Lodge voted to open Lodge membership to women, and the first female members joined in 2000 and 2001. Yet, here we are 16 years later and there are still a small minority of Odd Fellows Lodges that have no female members. That’s just wrong, and it is also not smart. Half the population is female, and to ignore that reality, is a mistake. Women bring intelligence, enthusiasm, energy, and new life to a Lodge. And it’s long overdue that every single Lodge in California have female members on their rosters.
Oaths and Obligations. The oath taken by the President of the United States upon assuming office is 35 words long. It is cogent, to the point, and meaningful. The obligation we take in the Initiatory Degree to become an Odd Fellow is 222 words in length. It is rambling, disjointed, and has diminished significance due to it’s ponderous length. If the Leader of the Free World can take office in 35 words, surely a new Odd Fellow can assume membership with less than 222 words. The Odd Fellows’ obligation needs some serious modernization.
Non-Sectarian. Our Odd Fellows’ literature and websites proudly declare that we are “non-sectarian”. But are we? “Non-sectarian” means not involving or relating to a specific religion. The degrees of our Order are meaningful and teach important lessons, but we cannot ignore the fact that they are derived from the Old Testament, which is the seminal text of the Jewish and Christian religions. And the “Lord’s Prayer” which is recited during the formal opening of Lodge meetings, is found in the New Testament, which is clearly affiliated with Christianity, but not Judaism. What message are we sending to potential members who affiliate with Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Shintoism, Confucianism, Sikhism, Taoism, and even Judaism? If one of our guiding tenets is “truth”, can we truly say we are non-sectarian?
F – L – T
Jurisdiction of California